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Waiting for my anal cancer scan results

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michelelongabaugh529.jpgBy Michele Longabaugh

Like many cancer survivors, my anal cancer checkups are on a set schedule. Currently, my PET scans are every three months. No matter the distance between each cancer scan, I tend to remain worry-free about them between scans.

But those around me tend to obsess over my upcoming tests. They are always asking when I am going to get another cancer scan, whether it hurts or if I am worried about them. I always laugh and tell them I am doing great and there is nothing to fear.

And those words are true up to a certain point in time. I don't worry until after the scan is complete. You know that time span between your cancer scan and when you receive the results? That's when my "scanxiety" sets in.

When my anal cancer scan worry kicks in

Up until this last round of testing, I really couldn't articulate why the angst existed over this when an hour prior to the test I had not a care in the world. You see, prior to scanning I exist in a cancer-free world created by the previous round of tests. That feels good and creates an aura of safety.

But after my scan, my anxiety soars to heights unknown. Here's why: When I arrive in radiology everybody is on the same page. We all know my last cancer scan was clean, and none of us knows what this next scan will show.
 
However, when I leave radiology, somebody knows my results. The radiation tech knows whether the bright red angry spots that represent the beast have reappeared on the pictures taken. The radiologist never reveals one way or the other, but just asking me if I have an appointment to see my doctor lights the fuse of concern and I start to overthink the question.

If they say nothing but "Have a good day," my mind can twist that into wondering if they mean this will be my last good day and I should enjoy it. By the time I am back to the waiting room to get my husband and head to the lab for blood work, I think that the radiologist knows my results now.

What is he or she saying into the phone in the bank of dictation viewing cubicles that exist in the hub of the PET scan area? Is there a "suspicious area of uptake" glowing red that has to be investigated further? Have they glanced at my age and thought, "Oh, that's such a shame. So young!" 

Now two people know something that no one else does: my results. We fill the 24-hour wait for the news with shopping and lunch and dinner with wine. My stomach hurts. This is my worry time. and it feels horrible and long.

Finding peace after a cancer scan
Since my anal cancer diagnosis in 2010, I have waited as long as a week and as little as minute for test results. I am here to tell you that the wait time doesn't make a difference. One week, one day, one hour, one minute all feel like an eternity when somebody other than me knows my results, good or bad. For that span of time I am worried and afraid.

When my results are given to me, I feel like I can exhale and do what will be required of me. Harmony returns because now everybody knows how I'm doing, and we are all on the same page once more until my next cancer scan. 

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To schedule an appointment in MD Anderson's Gastrointestinal Cancer Center, please call 1-877-632-6789 or request an appointment online.

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